Idaho History March 4, 2018

Jesus Urquides – Idaho’s Premier Muleteer


Jesus Urquides – Legendary Local of Boise

Gold discoveries in the Idaho Territory attracted Mexican immigrants. They worked as miners, vaqueros (cowboys), and mule packers. Mexican packers learned their trade in their home country, the Southwest, and California. They also worked as Army packers and began packing supplies to the mining camps in Idaho in the 1860s. Jesus Urquides came to Boise in 1863. He established a successful packing business and created Urquides Village near the intersection of Broadway and Main Street as a place to house the Mexican packers who worked for him. The Jesus Urquides Memorial, a public art piece, was installed at 115 Main Street in 2013.

(Left, courtesy of the Idaho State Historical Society; below, authors’ collection.)


source: Legendary Locals of Boise By Barbara Perry Bauer, Elizabeth Jacox (Google Books)
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“Jesus Urquides, one of several successful Mexican business people, came to Boise in 1863, became a prominent Pacific Northwest packer and built the Spanish Village in 1870s to house his Mexican packers. The 1870 census included 60 Mexican-born individuals.”

excerpted from: Idaho – History and Heritage Smithsonian
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source: Amazon
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Jesús Urquides: Idaho’s Premier Muleteer

by Max Aaron Delgado, III, Boise State University, August 2010

The life of Mexican mule packer Jesús Urquides is the subject of this work. Urquides was a Mexican-born mule packer who brought the skills of his profession to the American West, where he eventually settled in Boise, Idaho in the 1860s.

The focus of the work is to shed light on the activities of mule packers and their work in the American West as it related to the mining activities of the region and to also examine Urquides’ role in the establishment of Boise’s Spanish Village. Jesús Urquides: Idaho’s Premier Muleteer is a case study of the profession and its contributions to the mining industry of the late 19th century.

The life of Urquides’ personal life is examined. Other topics include: (1) the history of mule packing as a profession that was developed and refined over centuries of practice in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas, (2) mule packing in Idaho, (3) the Sheep Mountain mining district of central Idaho, (4) the decline of mule packing, and (5) the establishment of Boise’s Spanish Village.

Conclusions established during this study include: (1) that mule packing was ideally suited to provide logistical support for Idaho’s early mining industry despite unpredictable weather and rugged terrain, (2) that the use of the mule packing system contributed to the United States Army’s military success in its campaigns against Idaho’s Native American tribes, (3) that mule packing declined at the end of the 19th century due to economic factors and intense competition from freight wagons, (4) that Spanish Village was an ethnic neighborhood that encouraged multinational bonds among Boise’s Spanish-speaking population, and (5) that Jesús Urquides emerged as a singular figure for his role in the early development of Idaho and was widely respected by its pioneer community.


excerpts from pages 38-39:

Among his contemporaries, Urquides had no equal as a mule packer. It was an occupation that he stuck with for the rest of his life. Urquides packed for a total of 62 years beginning in California and ending in the Jarbidge Mountains of northern Nevada. Many times he appeared in the local papers as “the well known packer,” or as “Kossuth, the name that he is known by in all the mining camps far and near.” He was consistently called upon to pack massive pieces of machinery into the Idaho backcountry and his actions became legendary. He was a figure that was not soon forgotten by the people of early Idaho and he was interviewed and written about by people who saw him as a singular personality in Idaho’s history. He was a rugged, hardy individual who faced innumerable dangers and challenges in delivering civilization into the remote recesses of Idaho. He was also something more, a link to a people, a culture, a way of life that stretched across four continents to the ancient commercial civilizations of the Old World. He was the real deal; a Mexican mule packer who took his job as far as it would take him. He also provided for and nurtured a family, making Boise his home.

excerpts from pages 57-58 Thunder Mountain:

… no one soon forgot the incredible feats of Urquides and his mules. After resuming his Boise-Boise Basin routes, he was again called into the rugged central Idaho wilderness. In 1901, Thunder Mountain, northeast of present-day McCall, was the site of yet another mining rush. Col. W. H. Dewey ordered delivery of a 10-stamp mill, a huge piece of machinery for grinding ore. The story goes that when Dewey sought to get his stamp mill packed to Thunder Mountain, someone told him that “only Jesus Christ” could take such a load over the rugged terrain. “Naturally,” author Rafe Gibbs wrote, “Dewey thought of Jesús Urquides, and engaged him to perform the miracle with the aid of 40 mules.” Again employing techniques and strategies used in packing to the Yellow Jacket mine, he built and used tripods as supports to transfer freight from mule to mule in the process of climbing steep hills. Since it was next to impossible to turn sharply with the freight, Urquides staged mules at switchbacks and transferred the freight from one mule to the next until the loads were over the mountain. It was an incredible amount of work, and Urquides and the mules were compensated accordingly. Urquides received a rate of 10 cents a pound for freight and the mules received extra rations of hay. Upon arriving to Thunder Mountain with the mill intact, Urquides remarked, “I thank God that He gave us mules.” Urquides not only brought in the mill, but also brought in more cable just like the cable he delivered to the Yellow Jacket mine. He was to be known as the first packer into the Thunder Mountain region.

link to paper: Boise State
[Note: A lot of research about the people, the mules, the equipment, the packing and the perils of early Idaho’s “roadless” areas.]
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Packing in to Thunder Mountain

The town [Roosevelt] depended upon the freighters for supplies of all kinds–mining equipment, stores of goods, wood for fuel, as well as food. The Spanish packer, Jesus Urquides who had come to Boise in 1863, was best known of all, and famous throughout the Northwest. His name, Jesus, pronounced “He–soos,” was corrupted into “Ko-suth,” by which he was familiarly known.

When a 10–stamp mill was ordered by Col. W. II. Dewey in 1901 for the mine that came to bear his name, it was Urquides who packed it in by way of Bear Valley on the backs of his tough little mules. Again, when the Sunnyside mine had a 40-stamp mill brought to Thunder Mountain, it was Urquides who packed the mile-long cable over the twisting miles, the heavy steel coiled in loops between his pack animals, three abreast. It was an almost unbelievable feat. Urquides was efficient and dependable.

excerpted from: AHGP Valley County – Thunder Mountain History
[h/t SMc]
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Mules over mountains – a wild mining story from old Idaho

by Richard I. Garber

How did supplies get moved to remote places like mining camps in the old west? They got packed in on the backs of mules, as shown above in an 1871 U. S. Army image.

Last April I saw a newspaper article about a memorial honoring Jesus Urquides, a Mexican-American pioneer. Over at the public library I found Max Delgado’s 2006 book Jesus Urquides: Idaho’s Premier Muleteer, which was based on his master’s thesis in history at Boise State University. There is a wild story in there (on page 54) about how back in 1892 Jesus used his mules to carry a six-ton coil of 7/8” diameter wire rope for a Swem aerial tramway from Challis over three mountains to the Yellowjacket gold mine.

Like most wonderful old stories, this one was written about three decades after it happened in late fall of 1892. Urquides told one version to the Idaho Statesman, and G. L. Sheldon told another different one in the Christmas 1920 issue of the Engineering and Mining Journal. (Look up his article on Mining Experiences in Idaho in the Nineties on Google Books).

The Yellowjacket mine was located on a mountain 1,200 feet higher than the mill. Ore had to be hauled down in horse-drawn wagons or sleighs. So, they decided to put in an aerial tramway that instead would carry it in 125-pound buckets. The problem was that to construct it they needed to move an 8,400 foot length of wire rope as a single coil over mountain trails. Urquides said:

“It was necessary to get this wire to the mine without any break, for a splice would have been too dangerous for tramway work…and I loaded it on 35 mules, spreading it out with the mules in three rows. We had to pack between 60 and 70 miles up and down the steepest mountainsides. Several times, one of my mules would roll down the side of the mountain, taking the rest with them. Then it was necessary to get them all up, repack again, and start out. I never coveted another job like that.”

According to Sheldon the tramway decreased their ore transportation costs per ton from $2.50 to $0.07. You can find more stories in a freely downloadable 175-page book-length bulletin by Merle W. Wells called Gold Camps & Silver Cities (Nineteenth Century Mining in Central and Southern Idaho). [Linked to below]

source: Joyful Public Speaking
[hat tip to SMc]
[Note: most of the articles mentioned are below.]
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Gold Camps & Silver Cities

[Jesus Urquides – Packing for the Yellow Jacket Mine]

by Merle W. Wells

During the fall of 1869, almost everyone at Loon Creek lost interest in building up that nevertheless promising new mining camp. Nathan Smith. back from another prospecting tour, had another startling discovery to announce -this time, the Yellow Jacket.

His Yellow Jacket party thought that they had another Boise Basin, and a stampede on September 24 to the new bonanza depopulated Loon Creek. Some four hundred men took off with Nathan Smith, only to find the new district vastly overrated. In the words of John Ward; “Gold is very scarce in Yellowjacket, but the broken down horses and mules are plentiful along the road.” The trouble had been that one of the members of Smith’s Yellow Jacket discovery party had heavily salted the prospectors’ pans, apparently with California gold, and then had thoughtfully disappeared before the rush to Yellow Jacket revealed his deceit. Smith was as disgusted as everyone else at being the victim of a practical joke, and by the time the stampeders had all got back to Oro Grande, there was “terrible swearing on Loon Creek.” An incidental result of the hoax was the immediate discovery of some important Yellow Jacket quartz leads that eventually proved to be productive.

In 1876, a prospector’s three-stamp mill was completed to test the district, and six years later, arrangements were made to import a larger plant. In April 1883, packers loaded a ten-stamp mill onto mules and dug through snow drifts up to twelve feet deep in order to get into operation by June 1. That way their water driven mill did not miss a season when power was available. Ore was freighted with two wagons (each with four horses) down a mile and a half grade to the mill site at a cost of $2.50 a ton. Sleighs were used in winter. Like the stamp mill, which processed thirty tons of are a day, both wagons and sleighs had to be packed into Yellow Jacket. About thirty miners were employed until October 1892. Then a $100,000 mine purchase by Colorado investors led to a major expansion of activity there.

After a two-week $3,000 cleanup late in 1892, Yellow Jacket’s new Colorado owners saw that they needed to invest in a more economical production system. To reduce the costs of getting ore to their mill, as G.L. Sheldon explained it, they decided to erect a Swem aerial tramway, the buckets to carry 125 lb. of ore each. No packer would contract to deliver the 7/8-in. wire cable required in its construction. The company’s pack train brought in the cable, 8,400 ft. in length in three trips. Being too stiff to coil for individual coils on each mule, it was strung out upon the main street of Challis, six or seven runs on a side being tied together. The mules were placed in the center, with the cables lashed to each side, the loop at either end swinging clear of the leading and the end mules. Nearly all the inhabitants of the county were on hand to see the pack train start. They had plenty of excitement and fun. It took two men to manage each mule for the first few days. On uneven ground the individual loads would vary in weight. In a hollow the rope would lift the center mule off its feel. On a ridge or knoll one mule took the load of three. One wall-eyed cuss bucked and tore around on a ridge, throwing the whole pack train of twenty mules down the mountain 150 ft. into the timber in a tangled, twisted condition. It took two days to cut them out, no serious damage being done.

Owing to the stiffness of the several cables bound together the pack train could not make short turns, and a temporary straight trail, regardless of grades, was therefore made. Eventually the mules became accustomed to the novel loading, and the entire cable was delivered without serious mishap. The tramway reduced the transportation cost for delivery of the ore from mine to mill to seven cents per ton.

During the Panic of 1893, Yellow Jacket’s superintendent, fearful that his miners would be unpaid, refused to ship the June bullion production to Salt Lake. That action almost resulted in forfeiture of the mine. But G.L. Sheldon found out what had happened, sent the superintendent out prospecting for a new mine, and made the payment barely in time to avoid delinquency. Sheldon then took over and managed Yellow Jacket’s major property for two years. He still had to overcome problems arising from his isolated location. The replacement of a worn-out 625-pound camshaft proved difficult, but Boise’s noted Basque packer, Jesus Urquides, could handle heavy loads:

He secured the largest mule in the locality. He then made two tripods the height of the shaft when loaded. These were packed on another mule. The big mule was led with the load, one, two or three hours, depending upon the condition of the trail. [Urquides] would then stop and set up the tripods just behind the loaded mule. Four men would next slide the shaft back onto the tripods. The mule was then allowed to rest and feed for a short time and the procedure repeated.

Sheep Mountain, Greyhound Ridge, and Seafoam

While out looking for Indians during the Sheepeater campaign in 1879, Colonel Reuben F. Bernard found an interesting lode prospect on Sheep Mountain on June 8. When the army returned that way August 31, Manuel Fontez and his packers hauled a number of samples back to Boise. Obtaining good assays from his test specimens, Fontez set out with a small prospecting party in the spring of 1880. They found several good leads on Greyhound Ridge and created enough interest that several hundred miners showed up to prospect there each summer after that. John Early had particular success locating galena with Fontez on Greyhound Ridge the next summer, and Fontez found attractive outcrops on Sheep Mountain in 1882.

Within another two or three seasons, about forty-five claims had been recorded in these adjacent mining camps. Jesus Urquides, Boise’s most prominent packer who had come out with Fontez and taken up a productive Greyhound claim with John Danskin, spent the summer of 1885 hauling ore out to a smelter at Clayton. Plans to extend a road from Cape Horn to Greyhound Ridge and Sheep Mountain were contemplated as a means of developing the isolated prospects, retarded as they were by their location remote from transportation in rough country high above the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

excerpted from: “Gold Camps & Silver Cities, Nineteenth Century Mining in Central and Southern Idaho”, by Merle W. Wells, 2nd Edition, 1983, Published in cooperation with the Idaho State Historical Society and assisted by a National Park Service Historic Preservation Planning Grant **112 Megs**
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Mining Experiences in Idaho in the Nineties

Narrative of Difficulties and Happenings at an Old Gold Mine – Transportation Over High Mountain Ridges – Isolation in Winter – Novel Method of Packing In an 8,400 ft. Wire Cable

by G. L. Sheldon

The Yellow Jacket Mine, in Lemhi County, Idaho, was purchased by friends of mine in October, 1892, and shortly after I was sent in to take over the property and start work. Ketchum, Idaho, on a branch from Shoshone on the main line of the Oregon Short Line, was the nearest railroad point. From Ketchum it was eighty miles by stage to Challis; thence by horseback, over a trail sixty miles long, across three mountain ranges from 9,000 to 10,000 ft. in altitude, to the milling plant of the property on Yellow Jacket Creek, at an altitude of 8,000 ft. The mine was on the mountain 1,200 ft. higher. The ten-stamp mill on the property had been put in by J. B. Haggin in 1866. The former owners, after working two weeks in cleaning up the mill, turned it over to us. In four days we cleaned up $3,000 from around the batteries.

continued with stories of Jesus Urquides:

Page 1
Page 2
Page 3

source: Engineering and Mining Journal, Volume 110 December 25, 1920 (google books) page 1212-1214
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Jesus Urquides, January 18 1925


Description Jesus Urquides (1833-1928) at age 92. Urquides was an Idaho pioneer and mining day packer in the 1880’s and 1890’s. Urquides packed food and camp supplies to many of the Idaho Basque in areas of central and southern Idaho. He also developed a small Spanish village in Boise that was occupied by Basque packers. He died in Boise on April 26 1928.

source: Idaho State Historical Society
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Honoring Jesus Urquides

Boise Mexican American pioneer is recognized with new memorial

By Christina Marfice

The intersection of Main and Second streets in downtown Boise is lined with trees and stately, two-story homes. But it didn’t always look like that. For nearly 100 years, it was home to a village built by Jesus Urquides, “Idaho’s premier muleteer.”

Urquides played an integral role in shaping Boise into the community it is today. Now, local artist and architect Dwaine Carver and the Boise City Department of Arts and History are celebrating the contributions Urquides and other Mexican American pioneers have made to Boise with a memorial near where his home once stood.

“For part of the Boise 150 celebration, we wanted to look at who we haven’t acknowledged or honored, and what parts of history we haven’t really told through public art,” said Karen Bubb, city public arts manager. “This is a story that we’ve been thinking about for a long time.”

When Urquides arrived in Boise in the mid-1860s, he was already a successful Mexican businessman. At that time, Boise was only a small village surrounded by farms that provided food for Southern and Central Idaho mining camps. A decade later, Urquides inherited land from an acquaintance at what is now 115 Main St., and settled in the Treasure Valley permanently.

Other Mexican Americans and mule packers also settled onto Urquides’ land, where he built 30 cabins, stables and corrals. Known as the “Spanish Village” or “Urquides Village,” Urquides often referred to it as his “little world.”

(link to larger source size)

According to biographer Max Delgado, Urquides was a generous and understanding landlord, housing packers in the cabins on his property until his death, after which his daughter maintained the property’s many homes. But following her death in 1965, a fire damaged several of the buildings. A city inspector condemned the structures, and the village was destroyed.

Until recently, little remained of Urquides’ legacy in Boise beyond newspaper clippings and a few items housed at the Idaho Historical Museum. Urquides is buried at Pioneer Cemetery on Warm Springs Avenue, where his granite headstone is emblazoned with the word “Papa,” a Spanish term of endearment. His gravesite is maintained by the Hispanic Cultural Center of Idaho, which hosts a yearly Dia de los Muertos celebration at the cemetery to honor Urquides as a pioneer in Idaho’s Mexican American community.

Now, the city of Boise has erected a new memorial to Urquides. A bronze camera containing an image of Urquides is pointed as if taking the photo where his “little world” once stood. A pedestal with text on four sides tells a small part of Urquides’ life story and features a model of the buildings that once stood in the village. The memorial is small but poignant, with potential to grow, according to Bubb.

“At the site, there’s very little room to memorialize and there’s private property where the land once was, so [Carver] ended up coming up with a two-part proposal,” Bubb said. “The first part is what is already built there. The second part is a larger plan that would create a performance space that would be part of the land in front of the Pioneer Cemetery. The piece is very modest, but it’s accessible to pedestrians and it’s at the site, which is very important in terms of marking the location.”

Carver, who also designed a downtown public art piece commemorating Boise’s long-gone Chinatown, was drawn to the history of Boise’s Mexican American pioneers, especially since their contributions to the city’s early growth are often overlooked.

“I’m interested in invisible histories,” Carver said. “I liked very much the idea of trying to imagine or re-materialize something that’s been lost, especially things that are generally understood to be marginalized histories.”

To Carver, the Urquides memorial is particularly relevant, given the ongoing national controversy surrounding immigration and immigration reform.

“I think that a standout perception of the piece is the absolutely integrated nature of immigrants as pioneer citizens,” Carver said. “The southern part of Idaho was the northern border of Mexican territory prior to 1848. For a prominent, longtime pioneer citizen of the city to be an obvious and apparent part of that history, I think is an interesting thing to hold in one’s mind. I think the participation of so many different people from so many different ethnicities relating to the central foundation of the city is really one of the central points of the piece.”

The memorial will be dedicated at a ceremony Saturday, April 27, which will celebrate the oft-forgotten history of Boise’s Hispanic pioneers. From 4:30-5:30 p.m., Carver will speak about his piece to attendees, and a Mexican ballad poem, or corrido, will be performed. A committee of advisers from Boise’s Mexican American community will also be in attendance at the dedication.

Ana Maria Schachtell, a member of the Hispanic Cultural Center of Idaho board of directors, will also be in attendance. Schachtell has long been a proponent of Idaho’s Hispanic history.

“Mexican Americans provided a critical contribution to the development of the economy of the state of Idaho in the 19th century, so this is very appropriate that a public art piece celebrating Jesus Urquides and the people who lived there be established there at this time,” Schachtell said. “When you read things like that, you wonder why this information was left out of the history books. Why would they have omitted such an important part of our history? It’s almost been my quest, per se, to highlight the history of these mule packers and make people aware that this population is not new arrivals. We’ve been here since the beginning.”

source: Boise Weekly April 24, 2013
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Jesus Urquides

JesusUrquidesHeadstone-aPhoto added by David M. Habben

Jesus Urquides
Birth: 18 Jan 1833
Death: 26 Apr 1928
Burial: Pioneer Cemetery Boise, Ada County, Idaho, USA
JesusUrquidesYoung-aAdded by ET

source: Find a Grave

see also: The Yellowjacket Mine

Link: Thunder Mountain / Roosevelt History index page

page updated October 2, 2020